Founded by a local couple passionate about all things Norse, the Ashville Viking Festival is one of the highlights of the American Midwest reenactment circuit and attracts visitors from all over the US and beyond. 

Held annually, starting the last Saturday of April, the festival has become a beloved tradition in the region. 

Over the last 20 years, its co-creator, Nancy Vallette, has worked tirelessly to build up an event that aids local charities while also helping locals and tourists celebrate their passion for the Vikings. 

Inspired by a horned helmet 

As Nancy tells us, the story of this festival begins with another festival. "My husband Ed and I enjoyed going to Renaissance festivals. In around 1997, we went to one in Bristol, Illinois." 

"Ed, who was a large man, went to a booth selling horned helmets and told the vendor, 'If you have one that will fit me, I'll buy it!' I said, 'If they have one for you, I'll make the clothes!' The guy placed one down on the counter and said, 'That'll fit.'" 

"So my husband put it on and walked through the rest of the festival in denim shorts, a T-shirt, and a horned helmet." 

After arriving home, Nancy, an educator, and Ed, an artist, soon got hold of some more appropriate clothing and began exploring the world of the Vikings. 

"We decided that if we were going to portray something, we needed to learn about it. So we researched Viking history and became increasingly fascinated." 

The Ashville Viking Festival features a mix of serious historical reenactors alongside those incorporating fantasy elements, offering an inclusive space for all to enjoy. Photo: loganrickert (CC BY-SA 2.0)

A labor of love 

Inspired, the couple created the Lost Viking's Hoard, a now hugely popular booth at the Ohio Renaissance Festival that sells items designed to help you complete your Viking persona. 

The range includes both authentic and more whimsical items. "We usually say that we're Vikings at a Renaissance festival, so we're already 800 years out of date." 

"In Renaissance times, people actually believed Vikings wore horns, so sometimes we do too! We know better, of course, but it's all good fun." 

When the town of Ashville later asked the couple to come up with an idea for a festival, a Viking theme was the obvious choice. "We started in around 2003," Nancy tells us. 

"It took us about 16 months to bring it off the ground. We spent a lot of time working with the local businesses and people around Ashville."

"The festival is right in the center of town, so we thought it would be a good idea to get people on board with this crazy idea!" 

With its charming setting in a small Ohio town, the festival provides a welcoming environment for families and enthusiasts alike to come together and celebrate. Photo: loganrickert (CC BY-SA 2.0)

A community celebration and lasting legacy 

Fortunately, the first event was a resounding success, and the festival has been held every year since – excluding a break for the COVID-19 pandemic. 

"And it all started because my husband bought a hat," Nancy recalls. 

"I lost Ed in 2014, and I miss him a lot. But through him, we started our stall at the Ohio Renaissance Festival – where I have now been going for 30 years – and the Viking festival." 

From the very start, the couple was keen to ensure the festival was an open affair that could also contribute something to the local community. 

"We have no entry fee. Instead, we ask people to give something to a local food pantry," Nancy tells us. 

"The festival is pretty much put on through donations, vendor fees, and people giving up their time. It is kind of a labor of love festival for all of us." 

Despite its humble beginnings, the festival has grown into a major event, attracting thousands of attendees each year with its unique blend of history and entertainment. Photo: loganrickert (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Historical and hysterical Vikings 

This year's event will take place on April 27-28. While Nancy stresses that learning about history is undoubtedly part of the experience, she always wants people to let loose and enjoy themselves. 

"We have blended historical Vikings and reenactment with more of a festival atmosphere. So we have the hysterical Vikings, if you will, combined with those of history." 

Nancy informs us that though the Viking Age takes center stage, there is also a timeline theme so people can explore other parts of history. 

"We have some Romans – we like to tease them that the Vikings sacked Rome twice! We also have a few Civil War people, though they have so much fun they often come back the following year as Vikings instead!" 

Children visiting the festival can participate in a multitude of activities, including interactive exhibits, live performances, and special areas for play and exploration. Photo: loganrickert (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Plenty to look forward to 

In addition to lots of wonderful food, Nancy tells us that visitors can look forward to a wide range of entertainment. 

"We have jousters who portray the War of the Roses; that's also part of the timeline. We have four different stages with entertainment, as well as several wandering entertainers, including jugglers and a fire eater." 

"We have an area for children so they can play and another section where we can do longship races. Kids can row the ship and learn about seafaring in the time of the Vikings." 

"In a city park, we've had hundreds of children over the last few years, all taking turns rowing a Viking ship!" 

The Ashville Viking Festival offers attendees a diverse array of entertainment options, from live performances to interactive exhibits. Photo: loganrickert (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Authors, artisans, and artists 

"We also have about 70 vendors selling handcrafted items, as well as authors whom we've invited since the beginning."

"By the way, I am now one of our authors as well! I wrote a couple of books after I retired. We also have very good vendors, and many visitors come looking for artistry and quality goods." 

"We have one vendor, Green Tree Weaving, who literally takes the wool from the sheep herself, weaves the cloth, and makes tunics and dresses." 

"We also have someone who makes and sells soap on site, as well as another artisan crafting ceramics, including Viking-era objects. We also have a number of blacksmiths and a couple of amazing artists who do paintings, charcoal and drawings." 

Despite challenges such as unpredictable weather, the festival's popularity continues to grow, drawing attendees from far and wide to experience its unique charm. Photo: loganrickert (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Something for everyone 

Nancy tells us that though the festival has only ever been able to rely on a small local advertising budget and word of mouth, its popularity has grown steadily throughout the years. 

"We are now getting people from at least 14 states to attend the festival every year, and we are bringing in about 12,000 people over the weekend. Ohio weather is very unstable in spring, but our people come anyway – rain, snow, or sleet."

"We get some people who love fantasy – occasionally people who are dressed as fairies, and that kind of thing. Some people come over because they want to know what all this craziness is about." 

"I think we mainly just get people looking for a sort of escape from regular mundane life and having a good time. It's quite the celebration, and there are many family reunions." 

"Visitors can wander around and get a feel for things," Nancy tells us. They can maybe grab something to eat, sit down, and listen to some music. I think there's something for everyone." 

"People-watching is also great at this place – you never know who will walk through the door!"

To find out more about the Ashville Viking Festival, please check out their website or Facebook page

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